F*ck Cancer

This is the fourth time my son is fighting for his life. The first time was when he was diagnosed at 5 years old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He only did two months of chemotherapy but it didn’t work (this is called refractory leukemia). We had his older brother tested to see if he was a match for a bone marrow transplant and fortunately he was a perfect match. After four years and seven months, he relapsed. The search for an unrelated match was an uphill battle (him being biracial). Usually your donor should be the same ethnicity as you. But by God’s grace, we found one all the way from Germany. She is full blooded German though which is interesting. Her stem cells were infused on September 2, 2015. Three years and eight months later, he relapsed again. That was just two weeks ago (May 6, 2019).

Cancer, we will beat you again. And thank goodness for science, we have a plan to kill you for good.

I’m angry and bitter but I can’t keep feeling this way. I need to be strong for my son. I need to fight for him. And cancer can go fuck off!

I only came to Madrid to eat

The food scene in Madrid is crazy good that all I wanted to do in my short stay there was eat. My Eat Pray Love version of my Madrid trip was Eat Eat Eat! No touristy activities, no sightseeing—nope, none of that stuff! Surely this post will blow the taste buds out of your mouth, you’d be begging to eat Spanish food at the end of it! :p
Enjoy!!

When I was planning a spring break vacation with my son, I originally planned to meet him in Oxford and from there we would fly to Amman, Jordan. But my plans were complicated by my husband’s business trip schedule and I was forced to cancel the whole trip.

Story of my life….

I moped around, threw a pity party for myself, and cried like a toddler on temper tantrum until my son, who was on his way to the airport to begin his European adventure, called me. He told me that we didn’t have to completely scrap the whole trip and we can certainly work around my husband’s schedule. He also suggested to change our destination.

“You can still come to Oxford and visit me,” he consolingly said.

“Yeah but I also want to go somewhere else besides Oxford,” I told him.

“We can go to Madrid!”

Umm……no!

I’ve already been to Madrid several times before. And I’m sticking to this inspirational quote by the Dalai Lama:

And thus I’m crossing Madrid out! “Been there, done that!” I stubbornly said.

“We can go to Madrid for a couple of days and then fly to Morocco from there. Morocco has been in your bucket list for years now right?”

Smart kid. He had me at Morocco. Okay, I told him I’d include Madrid but in one condition:

“I’m only going to Madrid to eat!”

And we did just that for the two days we were in Madrid.

Getting into Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas Airport is probably one of the most daunting airport experiences I’ve had in several years. It took us at least over twenty minutes to get from one terminal to another by tram! I’m still confused thinking about it to this day. I don’t remember this airport to be this huge. But then again, the last time I was there was probably twenty years ago! It was when my husband and I were trying to have our first child. I wanted my baby to be “made in Spain” which of course didn’t happen. And now that first child is with me, here in Madrid, helping me navigate this complex airport. After several guessing game, we finally got on the right train (they have two different ways by train—the Cercanías or by metro). When we were transferring to another line, a woman tripped over my luggage as we were entering the train. I turned around to look at her, she gave me a smile then apologized. My son and I sat as soon as we got inside the train, the woman walked away from where we were sitting. A few minutes later, she walked towards me holding my pink passport holder (it was one of those covers that had slots for credit cards). “This is yours,” she said in Spanish. I was surprised and thanked her but she didn’t respond. She continued to walk away from us. I opened my passport holder and saw that my passport and debit card were still there. But then I realized later, she wasn’t giving me back my passport holder out of the goodness of her heart, but actually stole it. If my passport holder had fallen out of my bag, then it should’ve been where I was sitting. But she was coming from the other direction and I wondered how it could’ve fallen from there. Great! I became a victim of a pickpocket on my first day in Madrid! The irony is that I was grateful that my thief had a conscience! 🙂

Our hotel, Hyatt Centric Madrid, was not too far from the train stop. The reception gave us suggestions on where to go for dinner. She told us that although we shouldn’t miss out on Mercado de San Miguel, we should consider going to a less touristy one such as Mercado de San Ildenfonso. I already had my heart set on San Miguel and that’s where we went for our first night of my foodie adventure.

As soon as I stepped inside the market, my body experienced a thrilling sensation. I thought I was going to pass out from extreme excitement.

HELLOOOO!!!

I think I just died and went to heaven!!!

Be right back……

Definitely one of the best gazpachos I’ve tasted

Calamares heaven
Sangria!!!

Empanadas in different varieties

Bocadillo de calamares

Who goes to Spain and doesn’t eat paella?

Churros

churros con chocolate

Rich and oh-so-sweet desserts

This is the face of someone who died and went to foodie heaven! Lordy, if that’s what heaven is like, I don’t mind dying at all!

As you can tell from the pictures and on my face, the first day of my foodie-filled Madrid adventure was definitely a resounding success! I decided that Mercado de San Miguel is one of my favorite food destinations! I don’t care if it’s catered heavily to tourists, it certainly did a great job catering to my palate.

Second Day

If my first night of culinary heaven wasn’t enough to blow the taste buds out of your mouth, well then my second day will get you salivating and begging for Spanish food. A few weeks before coming to Madrid, I signed up for a walking food tour with the company, Devour. Their most popular tour, the Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour, captured my stomach heart. It initially sold out but I emailed them and asked if there’s a possibility of opening up another tour to accommodate me and my son. They immediately emailed me back and said yes, they will have another tour that will start at 9:45am on the day I requested. This is what I call excellent customer service!

So let me begin this four–hour walking food tour adventure…

We met at Plaza Mayor with our tour leader, Arantxa, whose name sounds nothing like Español. Although a short woman, she’s bold, opinionated, and definitely big in character. I loved her story telling ability that surely made this tour entertaining.

Our first stop was at Confiteria El Riojano, a family–owned pastry restaurant where we tasted a home-baked soletilla dunked in thick hot chocolate. A soletilla is a soft biscuit or cookie similar to a lady finger. The rich thick chocolate is heavenly delicious. For you history buffs out there, chocolate made its way to Spain from Mexico in the 1500’s but it was flavored with chili peppers that didn’t appeal much to the Spaniard conquistadors. As a result, they sweetened the cocoa with sugar cane in which the Spanish were the first to popularize in Europe. It soon became a popular drink in Spain and was served to its monarchy. Chocolate in Spain was the equivalent to the tea in England.

Another interesting fact that Arantxa pointed out is if you see a plaque in front of any of the establishments in Spain, it means the business has been standing there for a hundred years or so.

Our second stop was at Mercado de Jamon Ibérico. We were presented with three different types of hams: jamon Serrano, jamon Ibérico de Recebo, jamon Ibérico de Bellota. Serrano is the most common, packed in salt and cured for two years. It is what the Spanish use instead of bacon. Ibérico de Recebo is a different breed of pig from the Serrano, less fatty, and cured for three years. The Ibérico de Bellota is the leanest, most expensive, organic (only fed with acorns), and are cured for 4–5 years.

The hams were paired with a tempranillo wine. Tempranillo grapes are native to Spain. We also tried two varieties of olive oil (coupage and picual). Did you know that Spain is the #1 producer of olive oil? They sell their olive oil to Italy and Italy bottles them up and sells them as Italian olive oil (if your olive oil doesn’t say “product of Italy” then it is most likely from Spain). Be sure to buy virgin or extra virgin because their acidity (pH) have been tested by scientists in labs. If the acidity is less than .08, it is extra virgin; if it’s between .08 to 2, it is virgin; and if it’s just marked as “olive oil”, its acidity is more than 2 and considered unhealthy like canola, peanut or sunflower oil.

The food at the third eatery, El Anciano Rey de Los Vinos, was probably the most unforgettable. We had shredded oxtail meat with vegetables simmered until almost puréed. They were wrapped in filo dough and topped with piquillo peppers. I’ve never had anything like this before. It was so delicious that I wanted to have the whole plate all to myself.

This dish, called bull tail regalito, is a modern twist on the traditional beef stew. It was paired with a red sweet vermouth.

The fourth stop was at Taberna La Bola. This tavern is one of Madrid’s oldest kitchens specializing in Cocido Madrileño, a stew consisting of flavorful broth with vegetables, chickpeas, chorizos, and pork. We were allowed to come inside the kitchen and watch the ladies make this famous stew that has been simmering for hours.

Pictures of famous patrons

Demonstrating how to make this stew

Cocido Madrileño is eaten in three ways. When it is cooked, the broth is separated from all the ingredients and the soup becomes the first course. The second course is served with a plate of all the chickpeas and vegetables. The stewed–to–perfection meats are served last. Eating this dish takes a considerable amount of time and unfortunately we only got to taste the first course, which was the stew’s flavorful broth.

By this time we were all “complaining” of being almost full. But we still had three more places to go! Walking towards the fifth one, Arantxa told us we would make a brief stop at a convent where the nuns bake lemon cookies. She knocked on a window and spoke to a lady inside. Then the window opened and a box of cookies was placed on it and the window was immediately shut right after. We never saw who the lady behind the window.

Onwards to the fifth establishment—Bar Cerveriz is a small bar owned by Carlos who makes the best tortilla de patatas. Although the bar is located in front of Mercado de San Miguel, it is still a hidden spot from tourists. Tortilla de patatas is a simple dish (it is basically an omelet filled with potatoes) but it is a staple in Spain. I’ve eaten this before but Carlos’ version is made with runny eggs and the ones I’ve had were more firm. I like his version so much better. We were also given slices of Manchego cheese to try and a shot of Trabanco Asturian cider. He demonstrated how this cider should be poured: holding the bottle close to the head while holding the shot glasses below the waist. He asked each of us to try (I didn’t) but my son did.

By now, we were all full! They could’ve ended the tour after the fifth stop and we would’ve all been happy and content but no trip to Madrid is complete without tasting the city’s most famous sandwich: Bocadillo de Calamares, or calamari sandwich!

So here we were.. still eating even after complaining of being completely full! But the bocadillo was so good in spite of having only two ingredients: crusty bread and fried squid. I have no idea why something so simple makes this as one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever eaten!

And thank youuu Jesus, we have finally reached our very last stop at Torrons Vicens. The staff came Out with a big plate of four different types of turrones and shot glasses of Madroño liqueur. With my stomach about to explode, I was no longer interested in eating and all I wanted to do by this time was walk off all the calories I’ve consumed, perhaps do a little of my favorite cardio: shopping! 😀

After the tour, my son went back to the hotel to practice the art of siesta! And as for me, I forgot to mention in the beginning that I’m also in Madrid to shop! My seven pairs of Toni Pons shoes were heaven in my feet.

After a few hours of cardio shopping and my son’s exposure to Spanish culture siesta, we were ready for more food tripping. We wanted to try the less touristy market that our hotel’s reception had recommended. She boasted that Mercado de San Ildenfonso is the place where all the locals go. That got us curious…what do locals eat? So we had to go and see for ourselves. It was smaller than San Miguel and less selection. It was underwhelming to say the least. They had tacos and Asian style dishes that didn’t appeal to me one bit. If this is what the locals ate, then I prefer to be a tourist in Madrid lol!

FYI, Devour had suggested 7 Must-Try Typical Foods in Madrid:

1) Cocido Madrileño

2) Huevos Rotos

3) Bocadillo de Calamares

4) Callos a la Madrileña

5) Churros con Chocolate

6) Oreja a la Plancha

7) Pincho de Tortilla

If you are in Madrid, you might want to look for these foods. Happy eating!!

Hiking in Patagonia: Grey Glaciers

Our telephone rang and it was someone from the front desk to inform us that we missed our scheduled hike that supposedly started at 7:45am. I was confused because one of the guides last night told me that our Fauna Tour hike was at 9am this morning. I checked my watch and it’s only 8am. We spoke with the people at Patagonia Camp for other options and we were informed there were no longer hiking trips available that day. I was so disappointed and almost in tears thinking our last day in Patagonia has been ruined. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit around and do nothing.

After a few hours of fidgeting, the manager approached us and told us we could do a private hike with Fabian but only after he takes the people in the Grey Glacier tour to their boat and while waiting for them to finish with the ride. It was such a great option, even better than the Fauna hiking tour we were originally going to do, so we put on our hiking boots and off we went!

Fabian is a charming young man from Santiago. He took us to his favorite hiking spots, where he’d usually go when he is by himself.

The terrain wasn’t difficult, just right for me and my friend, but of course my ambitious self was thinking I could’ve done something more challenging (even after experiencing hardship yesterday). Although today’s hike wasn’t difficult, we still had to deal with long ascents (I suppose there aren’t any flat terrains in Patagonia. I reminded myself this ain’t Dallas lol!).

After our hike, Fabian took us to the Glacier, where we could see massive icebergs floating in the water. While walking towards the icebergs, it rained hard again but luckily the winds weren’t that strong.

This private hike with Fabian was a great way to end our hiking expedition in Patagonia. We had a great time getting to know about him and the reasons why they all decide to become guides. He said the money was good enough to sustain their livelihood and meeting people from different countries was the most exciting part of being a guide. Also, living in Patagonia was way simpler and less stressful than living in a big city such as Santiago.

We came back to Patagonia Camp where happy hour drinks were waiting for us. I think this was one of my favorite activities there! While we were hanging around the bar having drinks, a miracle had just happened: the clouds began to clear and there it was in front our very own eyes, the view of Torres del Paine National Park!

At dinner, our server was an adorable young lady who had just graduated from high school. She told us she was taking a break from school and wanted to do this job to make money and of course meet people from different parts of the world before she begins her college life.

Seated on the table next to us were a lovely young honeymooners from Denver. I immediately took a liking to them and after hours of talking we found out that during their wedding they had all their guests take a swab to be a part of the bone marrow registry! What are the odds! I told them about my son who battled cancer twice and had two bone marrow transplants! We all couldn’t believe what we had in common. At the end of the night, we all hugged each other and hopefully someday we will meet again! ❤️

It was a beautiful night to conclude our trip in Patagonia. The journey to get there was long and tedious, definitely was no easy feat, but the rewards are unparalleled: beautiful landscapes, friendly people, and amazing food!

Tomorrow we fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina!

Hiking in Patagonia: Condor’s Viewpoint

I haven’t been active here for several months now. My drafts have been left unfinished, finding no motivation to write lately.

My heart had been silent for so long and when it spoke, it only spoke of its sorrows. I tried everything to alleviate the sadness. I traveled, I hiked, I wrote, I drank. The battle continues. I contrived to stay afloat with my fighting spirit. But I can’t fight on almost empty. I was spiraling down to a place of total darkness.

Hence the lack of motivation.

Someone suggested I should go back to blogging and so I revisited some of my old drafts and was surprised that I haven’t posted anything on my hiking adventures in Patagonia. Imagine that! Hiking in Patagonia was my over-the-top, hiking dream trip and yet I neglected to write about it. It’s been almost ten months since I went there but the memories of Patagonia still lingers.

So here it is, get ready to read about my ass-kicking hiking experience in this part of the world where they call the last frontier of South America!

If you’re a control freak like me, forget about planning that perfect hiking trip in Patagonia. The weather, first of all, decides everything for you. Before I arrived in South America, I had planned to hike the French Valley and the base of Torres del Paine. Unfortunately, as soon as I got to Patagonia Camp, I wasn’t too happy to hear from the guides that the hiking we were going to do in the next few days were all dependent on the weather (and most likely hiking the French Valley and the base of Torres del Paine were quite dangerous due to the wet and slippery conditions). They talked us into going to several locations (where it wouldn’t be as windy and with less rain). Knowing I wouldn’t have the chance to hike the two most popular hiking destinations, I was disappointed to say the least. Eventually, we decided to to do the Cuernos + Condor Viewpoint Hike the following day, which marks our first day of hiking excursion.

Our day began at 8am, right after a sumptuous breakfast buffet at the camp’s main dining area. Our guide introduced us to six Americans who were going to be our hiking mates for the day. They were married couples— two couples from California and the other from Texas. They’ve all been friends for years and two of the gentlemen went to medical school together. They were older than us and if I had to guess their ages, they must be in their young sixties. Our hike started at El Salto Grande, a waterfall that’s 15 meters high. But as soon as we got there, it began to rain hard and the wind was blowing so heavily that I thought my body was going to fly and be thrown off the cliff. I could feel the rain coming down hard on my face which felt like little pebbles. No one moved from where we were standing, in fear of being blown away. But as expected with Patagonia’s crazy weather, the rain and wind stopped after a few minutes.

We continued with the hike, despite the on and off rain and heavy winds. Our guide had to change the plan and directed us towards a different path where he thought was safer. Everything around me was stunningly gorgeous. I was surrounded by beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife, and picturesque trails.

In all honesty, Patagonia was not even included in my travel bucket list. I was just curious and fascinated to be somewhere far away, to this fabled edge of the world! My aunt from Chicago, whom I ran into at the airport in Dallas before embarking on my trip, asked me where my destination was. When I told her I was going to South America but mainly to go hiking in Patagonia, she was shocked to hear it is actually a place. She thought Patagonia was just a brand of clothing. Well, this is why I chose to come here, a place somewhere on earth where many haven’t visited or even fathomed it existed.

Our guide announced we would stop for lunch, picnic style. To our surprise, he and the driver had set up our table so elegantly. Besides our packed lunch, we were offered wine served on real wine glasses (not disposable cups), beers, snacks and each of us had a tupperware with our sandwiches. I had smoked salmon and the regional Calafate beer. During lunch, I noticed my friend was drinking more than she should (I was worried she might get tired especially we still have the rest of the afternoon to do more hiking). But knowing her, she can outdrink anyone I know, thus I was confident she will be okay.

After lunch, our guide informed us we would be hiking to Condor’s Viewpoint. He told us that the hike difficulty is moderate although we will be ascending for a whole hour. Not knowing what to expect, I was excited to finally be hiking with the rain gone and with a little bit of sunshine. Well, shit, this hike isn’t the same as the flat terrain I’m used to back home. I was climbing uphill for what felt an eternity and worse…on a muddy trail! Using my hiking pole really helped especially the trail was quite slippery. I was getting tired and starting to run out of breath! When I looked up, the Americans were already way ahead of me. Holy crap, I was embarrassed and felt defeated. These people were at least 10 to 15 years older than me yet they seemed much more fit and way faster than I was. I looked behind me and didn’t see my friend. I knew she was trailing behind me but she was nowhere to be found. I waited for at least 15 minutes and still has not shown up. I began to panic. What if she fell off the trail and died? I started to blame myself for taking her to this trip. It was my idea to go on a hiking trip to Patagonia and now she is dead because of me. I was picturing a scenario on how I’d break the devastating news to her family!!! I looked ahead and saw our guide waving at me with the Americans looking impatiently. I didn’t know what to do, whether to wait for my friend or proceed ahead. I really wanted to catch up with the rest of the group but I felt responsible for my friend’s well-being. A few minutes later, I saw a glimpse of her body, moving very slowly. She did not look good. I asked if she was okay. She tried to catch her breath but didn’t say anything and instead waved at me to go ahead. I yelled and told her to stop and wait right where she was and take a rest. There was no point to encourage her to catch up. As exhausted as I was, I didn’t want the Americans to think I was a weak and inexperienced hiker. So I began my ascent and was determined to reach the summit. When I finally caught up with everyone, I apologized to my guide and to the six Americans. I blamed the delay on my friend who was resting down below. (It’s okay she couldn’t hear me and will never know I put all the blame on her)…LOL!

The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking! This hike was definitely unforgettable and if it hadn’t been cloudy that day, a panoramic view of Lake Nordenskjold, Los Cuernos del Paine, Valle del Francés and the Patagonian Andes would’ve been visible. As we made our descent, my friend joined us and told us about her low iron level which explains the lack of oxygen while ascending.

This was definitely a difficult terrain, but then again, I’m not a skillful hiker. It was quite easy for the six Americans who have been hiking most of their lives. I wondered what would’ve happened if I did the base of the Torres del Paine or the French Valley. I’m not sure I was ready for them after today’s experience. I was convinced that I need to do a lot more hiking in the future to be ready for any type of terrain.

Arriving at the camp, we wanted to chill at the bar after a grueling hike. We were introduced to a regional drink called Calafate Sour. It was so good that I must’ve had two or three glasses before dinner. All the dinners at Patagonia Camp were awesome. The first night was a buffet that included lamb (which was a Patagonian specialty). The second and remaining nights we were there, we were given a choice of an entree—with appetizer, dessert, and unlimited amount of wine.

Luckily there’s that unlimited amount of wine I indulged in after this first, difficult, and miserable hike.

Tomorrow, however, is a different story…..

Kong: A taste of Sex and the City in Paris

I can’t speak for all the women out there but I’m sure many of us wish we could get a little taste of the Sex and the City lifestyle. Carrie Bradshaw and her friends turned many establishments into major hotspots. An American Girl in Paris Part Une and Deux were the final two episodes filmed in Paris. In the Part Deux episode, it started with the scene at a restaurant. It was at Kong, a chic, luxurious, and uber trendy restaurant within walking distance from the Louvre. Visiting the restaurant gave me a little taste of a Sex and the City lifestyle in Paris!

If Carrie Bradshaw was a real person, it’s sad to think that someone like her wouldn’t probably be friends with someone like me. As much as I adore her, our lifestyles do not match. First of all, I don’t have a shoe collection worth $40,000! While she’s rocking her $400 five-inch Manolos in Manhattan, I’m in my Uggs, driving an SUV in the suburbs. It’d be a miracle if I met up with all my close friends once a month for lunch, she goes to brunch with hers on a weekly basis. On Friday nights, she’s most likely drinking cosmopolitans at a posh bar, while I’m in my pajamas sipping a hot chamomile tea watching Netflix.


I can’t speak for all the women out there but I’m sure many of us wish we could get a little taste of the Sex and the City lifestyle. Carrie Bradshaw and her friends turned many New York City establishments into major hotspots. Tour companies capitalized the show’s huge success and ran tours visiting some of its iconic locations. I’ve actually been to several locations such as The Boathouse in Central Park where Carrie and Big met for lunch and unintentionally swim. And in one of my trips to NYC with my older son, I took him to Buddakan, a trendy and upscale Chinese restaurant in the Meatpacking district. It was the venue for Carrie and Big’s rehearsal dinner in the series’ first movie. (By the way, my son hated this place. He described it as pretentious and mediocre food.) 😊

An American Girl in Paris Part Une and Deux were the final two episodes filmed in Paris. In the Part Deux episode, it started with the scene at a restaurant where Carrie met  Juliette (her Russian lover’s ex-wife) for lunch. It was at Kong, a chic, luxurious, and uber trendy restaurant within walking distance from the Louvre. Carrie praised the restaurant but Juliette  called it (especially the chairs) hideous!

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After spending a couple of hours on top of the Arc de Triomphe, staring at the Eiffel Tower, and saying my heartfelt goodbyes, I wanted to have a memorable lunch in Paris on my last day there. Kong was in my list for must-visit restaurants but I was having second thoughts. What if the place is too chic for me? Will the people intimidate me? Ah, what the heck, I’m going anyway! 

From Champs-Élysées, it was only a few metro stops to Pont Neuf. It didn’t take long to find the building address for 1 Rue du Pont Neuf. From the entrance, I took the elevator to the 5th floor where I was greeted by the hostess.

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I told the hostess I didn’t have a reservation but it didn’t seem to be a problem. She asked me to follow her upstairs and we both walked up to the green stairs to the restaurant.

The top floor is a stunning indoor rooftop glass terrace and the Philippe Starck decor is inspired by the ultramodern Franco-Japanese designs. The chairs were designed with three faces representative of the Kong spirit–a geisha (which is also on the ceiling), one that resembles Audrey Hepburn, and a more modern anime-like face.

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img_1037The restaurant has magnificent views of the Seine River and Pont Neuf Bridge (if you are lucky enough to get a good seat near the window) and the abundance of natural light makes the restaurant even more spectacular. And by the way, I disagree with Juliette, this place is far from hideous!

 The two servers were both very attractive. The waiter who first served me wore a black suit and the waitress who later came to give me my tea and check wore a mini skirt and a cross body bag (I was actually surprised that she was the server and initially assumed she  was a customer).

 I ordered the dim sum platter and a glass of red wine. I didn’t specify which wine assuming he’d give me the house wine but later was shocked to learn that he gave me a very expensive glass (it cost me €18!). But I have no complaints because the wine was excellent!

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There were only a few people in the restaurant when I arrived and patrons who came later were mostly Asians. Sex and the City must have been popular in Asia too! They were well dressed, just as you would expect. But their selfie taking was irritating the two gentlemen seated near the window, rolling their eyes at every selfie pose.

They were actually entertaining to watch and gave me something to laugh about. It was like a scene in a comedy show. Towards the end of my meal, I noticed that the restaurant hadn’t been crowded the entire time I was there. I suspected that since it was Sex and the City that made it famous, perhaps it is now in its decline? I looked at my watch and didn’t realize it was already 3pm (which explains the almost empty restaurant).

When I left Kong, I was glad to have had the opportunity to follow one of Carrie’s footsteps in Paris. Walking along the Pont Neuf bridge, I realized my time in Paris rates as one of my most favorite travel experiences. I was afraid that in my solitude I would get lonely or bored, but it turns out I loved every minute of my time alone, and more importantly, my own company.

I’ll always have Paris… 

“I need to move around a bit. To shuffle my surroundings. To wake up in cities I don’t know my way around and have conversations in languages I cannot entirely comprehend. There is always this tremendous longing in my heart to be lost, to be someplace else, to be far far away from all of this.”

My life had its share of ups and downs. It has seen a lot of heartaches and disappoitments. After my son’s relapse with cancer, life hasn’t exactly gone back to normal. Life at home is just as stressful as it was. Besides tending to my younger son’s medical and everyday needs, my husband has been suffering  from anxiety attacks. I used to think it was just a once-every-few-months occurrence but lately the attacks have  been occurring with increasing frequency. They often strike out of the blue without any warning even when the atmosphere is relaxed. I also worry about my older son. He recently came out and it was revealed to us in his blog that he’d been bullied in high school. Since this revelation, I’ve been worried sick about him. I’ve been concerned about his happiness and finding love, as I’ve been made aware by my gay friends that a homosexual lifestyle can be very lonely. I think about him a lot and sometimes I make myself sick by overly agonizing about his well-being. And as for me, I believe I still have PTSD. I’ve had countless of sleepless nights drowning  in sorrow. I have done everything to help alleviate the loneliness. I walked. I hiked. I wrote. I read. But no matter what I did, there’s always that feeling that something was still missing.

Perhaps I needed to take time away for myself to recharge my batteries and travel somewhere I’d always wanted to go. In a city where I could do as I wished without regard to what a traveling companion wanted to do. Where I was entirely alone and free. And to be far away from all of this.

I’ve always had this fantasy of being in Paris alone. To wander in the city, without any destination in mind. To go where the moment takes me. To stop rushing from place to place. I want to experience Paris. I want to take chances and have adventures. To learn the art of talking less. To take my time and savor each Parisian minute. To stay at a cafe and survey the scene. Take pictures of anything and everything that catches my eye. To contemplate. To have Paris all by myself, my way.

And I did just that….and more.

I also got to do some of the (touristy) things I missed out on in my previous visits. I have stood in front of the Eiffel Tower many times before  but never got the chance to climb it (that’s because none of my companions wanted to).
And so it was the very first thing I did on this trip.

I didn’t only climb the Eiffel Tower but treated myself to a wonderful lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel.  For about $50, I had a three course lunch with wine and tea. Was the food good? It wasn’t spectacular. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

I also learned to use a tripod, and taught myself to be self-indulgent by taking a lot of pictures of me. I loved it for a change!

Like the Eiffel Tower, I have never made it on top of the Arc de Triomphe in my previous visits.

And so once again, I climbed another famous structure! The benefits of solo travel!

I took a million pictures of the Eiffel Tower in various filters. Regardless of how many times I have seen this tower, I can’t get tired of it. It never gets old. Paris never gets old.

I wanted to get lost in the moment, to go anywhere without a destination in mind, to walk around aimlessly, and…I did! My wish, granted: I wandered, got lost, but found my way back. Now I know what it means when people say do not be afraid to get lost!

But once again, I got lost…this time in the company of books at Shakespeare And Company,

Someday I’ll remind myself these words by Hafiz: I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.

And to also remember that little things can instantly bring a ray of sunshine such as a free bench.

I went for a walk at Jardin du Tuileries, to contemplate life…

and to admire the beauty of the autumn leaves.

Reminding myself once again that no matter what life brings, it is still beautiful just like those flowers in bloom…

To always stop and appreciate the moment. To look around me in awe and be grateful at how lucky I am to be surrounded by such beauty.

One of the great pleasures of being in Paris, that is truly très magnifique, is the art of cafe-sitting. And no one can deny that this city is a gastronomical dream!

I had tea at Mariage Fréres.

I indulged on a cup of rich hot thick chocolat at Angelina.

They say, “To err is human. To loaf is a Parisian.” My daily petit dejeuner were croissants and baguettes.

I drank wine. Every. Single. Day.

But I also ate light on some nights and had this fantastic Salade Nicoise with tuna at a bistro near my hotel. It was so good I went back twice.

I looked up at every building and swooned over the architecture,

and took pictures of whatever that caught my eyes.

I declared that my most favorite metro station is the Abbesses,

and spent a whole afternoon in the Bohemian and artsy Montmartre.

And there, in Montmartre, I found the wall. No, not Donald Trump’s wall, but a wall where love comes together in every language: Le mur des Je t’aime,

I love you wall.

Although Paris is the city of love, it is the perfect place to be alone. It is perfect for strolling by yourself without the constraints of pleasing somebody. Since I usually travel with my family I didn’t realize that this adventure gave me the opportunity to be completely selfish–something I don’t normally get to be when I’m at home. I almost forgot what it felt like to not have to worry about anyone but myself.  It took a lot for me to finally take a step and just go. I left feeling lost, lonely, and wanting to escape life. I was hopeful that during my alone time, I would find myself in the mystery of a new place.

I pondered each night on how much I learned about myself on this trip. I wrote journals with pensive thoughts: what had happened, I wrote, to the woman who loved spontaneity and great adventures? Had she disappeared?

Somehow, when I disconnected myself from the usual habits, I reconnected with myself. Perhaps this is what traveling alone usually does: you rediscover and reconnect with yourself.


Oh, but then again, I wasn’t completely alone. Paris was there with me the entire time–to accompany me on my journey of self discovery. And whenever I start to feel lonely again, or feel that life is passing me by, I will remind myself that I’ll always have Paris.

 

A Feast for the senses: The picturesque village of Les Baux-de-Provence 

“Everyone who comes to visit, always asks me to bring them to Les Baux-de-Provence!” Michel told me. I can understand why. Beauty is not only something that pleases the eyes, but also pleases the other senses and this is how I describe Les Baux-de-Provence.

The scenery from Avignon to Les Baux was truly unforgettable–passing through vineyards, Sycamore tree-lined roads, olive fields, and hilltop chateaus. It somehow didn’t feel real. It’s like watching a scene in a travel show or in a movie. Except I was in it. I read somewhere that travel can sometimes feel like a dream. When you’re jet-lagged, it can be hard to tell whether you’re actually awake. A good hard pinch is often the only way to know for sure. I think I have pinched myself quite a few times during this trip. 😜


Perched on the top of the rock, Les Baux-de-Provence is located in the foothills of the Alpilles mountains. It is listed as a heritage site that has won titles such as “one of the most beautiful villages in France.” Before going up to the village, both Michels mentioned we were going to an “art show with music” first but with their limited English, I couldn’t visualize such description. My expectations were low but what I didn’t anticipate was I was about to experience a mind-blowing, out-of-this-world, totally immersive and exhilarating experience!

 Carrières de Lumières is a sound and light art show in a magnificent setting–in a limestone quarry! The art of world famous artists, with the use of numerous video projectors and 3D audio, are projected onto the quarry’s floors and walls accompanied by enchanting music. I have never seen anything like it!

This year’s art were of Bosch, Brueghel, and Arcimboldo’s. After forty minutes of mesmerizing visual and sound, I was still in a dreamy state when we walked up to the village of Les Baux. (Visitors must park in the lower part of the town and walk up to the historic village).


Wandering the old cobblestone streets, visitors will find charming cafés, souvenir shops, and art galleries. This dreamy, medieval, semi-ruined Provençal village is definitely well worth the visit especially for its picturesque setting and breathtaking views.

Michel suggested to go to La Reinne Jeanne for lunch, a French/Mediterranean restaurant that has gotten excellent reviews. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a table. It’s really too bad because the food seemed delicious and the restaurant had a nice view.


We could another restaurant that wasn’t too crowded. As we sat, the owner/server explained what’s in the menu, then she suggested (speaking in French) that “the mademoiselle can have a burger.” The three of us laughed once she left our table. First, she called me a mademoiselle (ahem, I’m maybe too old to be called that). Second, she suggested for me to have a burger. “Perhaps she could sense you’re from Texas!” Michel laughingly said.


The Dejeuner du Jour were explained to me as follows: lamb, duck, beef, and fish. I asked for fish since I rarely eat meat  (except for chicken and occasionally pork). Somehow something was lost in translation because my fish turned out to be squid. It’s a good thing Provençal cooking is delicious. My squid was perfectly cooked, not rubbery at all.


On the drive back to Avignon, we stopped at a perfume “museum.” I wasn’t overly impressed with it and probably the least of my favorites among the things I did/see in the Provence area. I wish we had gone to a winery instead! 😜

My pictures couldn’t capture the beauty of Les Baux-de-Provence but it was definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. I just wish it wasn’t very touristy but when a place is this beautiful, France has no choice but to share it to the world.